Jan 25, 2018, 15:39
As music publishers, our job is to help musicians make money. As such, we’ve never steered musicians one way or another in terms of which performing rights organization is best for them to join. When we launched years ago, our assumption was that ASCAP and BMI were basically equal; in terms of responsiveness and in terms of acting in the best interest of their members. But after years of interacting with both organizations, we’ve got some things to get off our chest about ASCAP.


If you’re a major label artist represented by a major publisher, read no further.  This blog is not for you. We’ve heard the stories about cash advanced to you by ASCAP to entice you to leave BMI. If your name is Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini or George Gershwin, ASCAP’s management is taking very good care of you. You’re also dead.


Our gripes only apply to the musicians who are emerging creatively now; at a time when – in the face of non-existent CD sales – musicians must carve their own way. If you’re that person, here’s why we think you should go with BMI; or maybe no PRO at all:


1) ASCAP Makes It Impossible to Do Your Own Deals


Both BMI and ASCAP publicly state that their members should feel free to strike any “direct license” deal with whomever they want. That means if your manager’s cousin owns a chain of restaurants and thinks your music would provide the perfect ambience; as long as your manager tells ASCAP about it in writing, their cousin will be left alone.


For BMI, that’s absolutely been the case. We’ve negotiated deals with retail stores who need musical ambience and are willing to pay for it. The music in our library is exactly what they need and the store would prefer to keep the paperwork simple by paying just us. In cases like this, we compensate the musician directly and thereby do ASCAP/BMI’s job for them. We’re happy to do it. BMI’s help is not needed.


In these situations, we’ve found that BMI sticks to their word about getting out of the way as long as we notify them. They understand that musicians need all the help they can get.


ASCAP, on the other hand, imposes so much red tape on the let-us-know-in-writing process that it’s become insidious. The form they require you to complete isn’t available on their website (so we uploaded it here). It requires more arcane details than a tax return. The musician isn’t allowed to authorize outside publishers to fill it out on their behalf. Each usage must be individually authorized. It’s the worst. Everything about the process screams, “We didn’t want you to actually do this.”


ASCAP, if you’re going to strangle a musician’s ability to pave their own way, at least allow outside publishers to bear that strangling for the musician. Your direct source process has become so restrictive, we’ve actually had to exclude ASCAP musicians from opportunities. Your musicians are losing money because of you.


2) Membership Fee  


A $50 membership fee, ASCAP? Really?


BMI charges nothing to become a member. That’s because they realize a person who created an actual fixed piece of music worth registering with an organization busted their butt to accomplish that. And if they’re just starting out, that person certainly bore some financial costs.
That list of costs shouldn’t include a membership fee to an organization who uses price discrimination to avoid dealing with rookie questions from new members. I’m sure Pink, Taylor Swift & Adam Levine all had dumb questions when they joined BMI.



We are not the first music publishers to imagine a marketplace without ASCAP. In 2008, Getty Images introduced a stock music product called iStockMusic. Shockingly, their website terms and conditions required participating musicians to NOT be a member of any performing rights organization. I thought this was insane.


In hindsight, it was kind of genius. Even then, Getty’s legal team knew that the mass volume of frictionless transactions upon which the internet (and now the modern economy) function on a day-to-day basis would be choked out of existence if they tried to adhere to ASCAP’s policies.


If you’re a musician who can more easily conquer your niche by making your own deals, think hard about whether you want to join a PRO. And if you decide to join one, we think BMI will make it easier for you.


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of http://www.musicrevolution.com, a production music marketplace with over 50,000 tracks online where media producers, video producers, filmmakers, game developers, businesses  and other music buyers can license high-quality, affordable royalty-free music from an online community of musicians. mbielenberg@musicrevolution.com.

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